Off-season changes excite Erickson

Following back to back losing seasons it was only natural that the Sun Devils would endure some modifications in order to improve its chances for success. Some of those transformations were forced, while others were merely just part of the process. Yet, the end result of all those changes is one that ASU Head Coach Erickson thinks will turn things around for the maroon and gold in 2010.

Erickson sat down with the team's beat writers in his office on Tuesday afternoon and covered various topics concerning the team.

On the team's off-season workouts

"It has been a really good off-season. Ben (Hilgart, ASU's Strength and conditioning coach) said that it has been the best it has been so far. It's a little different group because of the amount of young players that we've had to play the last few years and now those guys are taking over the leadership. It's really been good and they have been doing a lot of the other stuff on their own (i.e. informal workouts).

"We've seen guys get stronger and bigger. Those young offensive linemen that we had to play the last couple of years are getting bigger and stronger – they're different people. Adam Tello, for example, I look at him now compared to where he was when we had to start him at right tackle against Georgia two years ago. We could have destroyed his confidence. Here's a redshirt freshman that is not ready to play and we're playing him. Now he's 300 pounds, stronger, bigger and has a good chance starting at right guard for us.

"To see that transformation in that area (offensive line) because obviously it has been a reason of concern for fans, and so forth…we are so much better. You look at the offensive line now, with the junior college guys we brought in, and the guys we have back. You have the Kyle Johnsons of the world – he was 260 pounds when he came in and he's 295 now. Garth Gerhart…you can go down the line. All those guys that had to play some are a year older, and stronger. It's maturation more than anything.

On the depth at offensive line giving the team more options

"I'm excited about it. For the first time since we have been here, we are two-deep in spring football with scholarship players. We would start with two or three walk-ons that second team going into spring. If we were healthy we would be more than two-deep (with scholarship players). It's different. We have some young guys, like Kody Koebensky, three years ago he might have had to play. This next year he doesn't have to play. He can sit and get better.

"(Zach) Schlink is healthier than he has ever been. You watch him in the weight room, in the mat drills – he's a different guy. He lost weight, his knee – redshirting last year made a difference. He's a heck of a football player and he's healthy for spring ball. He has a lot more confidence in his knee. Will he have trouble with his knees? Probably always. That's just the nature of the problem that he has. At least he knows what he can and can't do. Seeing Schlink and what he's doing out there is very encouraging."

On how the offensive line will be changing assignment wise under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone

"It will be a little easier on them. The bottom line is that they have to block people and protect. With what we are doing now, Noel's input will be quite different than what you have seen. It's going to be faster, quicker, more motion, more no-huddles…It's going to make it a little easier on our front protection wise. Although I thought we protected pretty well a year ago, we just weren't able to make plays when had to."

On whether he would describe the new offense as simple for players to grasp, but complex for opposing defenses to figure out

"I think anytime you fast pace anything, it makes it more difficult. When you no-huddle, I know how it is for us on defense. It limits you to what you are doing, what you can and can't do defensively. To me, we are simplifying what we are doing, yet we are making it more difficult on defense.

"It's a combination of different things Noel has been involved in. From what the University of Houston is doing now, to what Coach Leach did at Texas Tech…we'll have the tight end involved more than those two teams, although we'll be in a lot of four wides, hybrid back that motions. It will completely different than what people have seen and they'll see it in the spring from day one.

"I'm excited about it, because it's really what I've done but in a different pace. He (Mazzone) is very good. You can ask anybody in the country. He has had opportunities to go a lot of different places and with our relationship this is where he wants to be. I think it will be huge turning point offensively for the program. Nothing against anybody, but we had to make fast pace changes offensively and move the football. That's the bottom line – we have to score points."

On seeing the defense play so well last year and the offense not matching that level

"It's been very frustrating for me to know that there have been times the last two years, the last one particularly, that we dominated teams on defense and we were not able to win games. It's frustrating for everyone involved. Our defense a year ago was as good as anybody in the league, yet you win four games and you lose four or five real close ones that could have change things around.

"So as you sit back and ask ‘what are our failures?' The first one, and I said that many times, is to evaluate myself and anybody else. So we had to make a change offensively and do different things that are being done out there according to how good our personnel is. I know you will see marked improvement offensively. Can we stay we were defensively? I think so, but we lost some awfully good players too."

On whether if the QB's on the roster can execute the new offense or will it take a couple of years to bring in the right QB to run this offense

"You can take what we are doing and (adapt) it to the type of quarterback you have. This is not the option. This is not Oregon's (offense). You look at Houston, Texas Tech and it's more like that. We are going to throw the football and running some. It's spreading people out and finding a way to attack and making them line up to you. Be more of an attack mode offense. They are going to have to come and cover us and we are going to go from A to B.

"A lot of our offense will be called from the sidelines. But there will be the opportunity to audible too. We'll put a little bit more on the quarterback because he has to do stuff at the line of scrimmage."

On what Coach Mazzone has said about the offensive personnel on hand and how it can execute this new scheme

"He likes it. We feel like our front is better than it has ever been. We feel that the wideouts, with the additions of the junior college players coming in can do some things. We feel that the speed of our offensive football team is way better than it's ever been. So he likes what he sees.

"We using the Gerell Robinsons and Kerry Taylors of the world a little different. They are going to be much more involved. Aaron Pflugrad, Jamal Miles, some of the running backs we have, the young guys that we have coming in are extremely fast…you'll see more speed and our ability to use that speed more than we have. As I look at our personnel we have the right guys for this and we'll continue to recruit to that type of guy. You'll see the fastest offensive team you have seen here in a long time here and that's us taking advantage of all that stuff.

"Are we going to do it in a day? No. They'll be some time sat spring ball that I will be looking at Noel saying ‘what the heck are you doing?' But he does know what he is doing."

On being ‘in between' in last year's offense "We were spreading people out and running a little bit of option, but our passing game wasn't quite what we needed to have in that type of offense. The four wides, lifting our backs…that will make the difference (this year). Our running game won't be a while lot different than what you saw a year ago."

On whether it's a priority to establish a clear cut starter at QB in spring practice

"I'd like to have stability at that position. Hopefully by the end of spring we can do that. It's going to be a battle between Threet and Osweiler. Szakacsy is hurt. He had surgery on his shoulder a couple of weeks ago that they think will really make a difference. We feel that he will able to do quite a bit of (spring practice), but we'll have to wait and see about that. So hopefully he'll be ready. So we'll have those three battling and we'll go from there.

"Some of the stuff we are doing in the run game, Steven is familiar with what he did in Michigan. Samson has the speed but those other two guys can run, they're not stiffs."

On how he sees the role of the tight ends changing this year

"They will be more involved in the passing game than they have ever been, because we will flex them a lot more. The thing about this offense is that we're versatile enough to get into some two-tights stuff."

Erickson said that Max Smith and Chris Coyle are "a little different than (Trevor) Kohl and (Dan) Knapp. We are going to use them all in different roles and roll them (out) depending on the substitutions. Our personnel group will be different but we still do it without a huddle. But we will have roles for those players."

On whether Cameron Marshall will get a lot of carries in this offense "Cameron will and there are a lot of things he can do. James (Morrison) will be involved a lot. He's healthier than he has ever been. We'll play Jamal back there some. Really a guy that I'm kind of waiting to see is Marcus Washington. He's a talented kid and I forgot he's been gone so long (Washington greyshirted).

"We have a couple of freshmen that can really fly. Deantre Lewis brings something to the table and Middlebrooks can fly. They are legitimate 10.5 (in the 100m) type of guys. They're young so maybe they'll play and maybe they won't. One thing about this freshman class, I don't think we'll have to play a lot of them."

On what other players won't be ready for spring

"T.J. Simpson, Deveron Carr, Jonathan English, Otis Jones."

On whether the team has enough talent coming back on defense to sustain the level of play from last year

"At linebacker we got a lot of good young players. Oliver Aaron was starting for us at the end of last spring and then he had a couple of (injuries). Shelly Lyons, Brandon Magee…Munns is back, Vontaze (Burfict)…we will be able to physically replace (departing linebackers). But (replacing) the mental aspect of Mike Nixon? I don't know that you'll ever be able to replace leadership. Travis (Goethel) really emerged. Last year was his best year by far.

"Secondary wise, Omar (Bolden) will be back healthy and he started for us last year. Deveron won't be back in the spring but he ended up being our best corner. Osahon (Irabor) was hurt and we felt until he got hurt that he would play as a true freshman. Josh Jordan is returning.

"The safety situation: Clint Floyd was starting, Keelan (Johnson) was starting. (Shane) McCullen - I really like the looks of him and what he did on the scout team. So we have some guys back there. We have people to replace (the departing safeties).

"We are looking to do some different stuff defensively. Because of our linebacker depth we are going to look at playing some 3-4, more nickel stuff. Will we do that in the spring? Probably not. It won't be our base defense, just situational. We're a 4-3 and there's no reason to change out."

On which returning defensive players are poised for an impact season

"Greg Smith is 265 pounds now, he put on 20, 25 pounds. James Brooks, Jamarr Jarrett with another year…Will Sutton will be a lot better. We all know about Lawrence Guy but Lawrence can get better. I look at him now and he can be a dominating player. Bo Moos has finally turned into a guy that can help us."

On Thomas Weber

"Let's hope he stays healthy. In the reality of things, early in our season, not having him kicked and try to come to play at the end of the year where he missed some chip shots, against Arizona for example. At Georgia, in an early game where we might have some momentum going…

"Weber is totally healthy. That was a grind when he got hurt. Where do you kick a field goal from? How are you going to kick it off? It changes your field position game. It changes how you strategize offensively. (Bobby) Wenzig really didn't really do a bad job."

On what he wants to accomplish in spring practice

"Pretty much the same things that we always want to. It's a little different because how we are going to be offensively. Defensively we have to be very careful that there are times during practice where it isn't always no-huddle so we get what we need on defense too. I think it will make us a lot better defensively. It's going to be very competitive between the offense and defense which makes you better.

"It (Spring practice) is still about evaluation and who's going to play and who isn't. What can we do on defense and offensively? It's what we're doing offensively and who fits into what we want to get done. It's going to be a fun spring. I am looking forward to it. Probably more than any one (spring) that I have been around. We got depth where we can do different things and I am excited about what Noel is doing offensively. To see it actually on the field, to see where we're at, and what we have to improve on and all that stuff is really exciting."

On the improvement of Brock Osweiler

"He'll be a lot better. Physically he is going through a change. He's only 19 years old. He's just physically and mentally going to be so much better."

On the three changes on his coaching staff

"You hate to lose some of those guys. There is no question about that, but in saying that -sometimes change is good. Steve Broussard is coming in replacing (Eric) Yarber. Their personalities are different, both are good.

"With Matt (Lubick) leaving…we all know what he has done recruiting-wise here. That's obvious. But I think on the field, Trent Bray has really been coaching our linebackers for two years as a GA. Here's a guy who's 28 years old, played in the league (Pac-10), and those players have a great deal of respect for him. When he goes out there in recruiting, it helps. Will he be a Matt Lubick? I don't know that there is another Matt Lubick.

"Craig Bray will coach the safeties that something that he has done for years. But what that is able to do is free him up more because that group can work together (with the cornerbacks).

"I hired a guy by the name of Alvin Smith as a defensive GA. He was a defensive lineman for us at Oregon State and after I left there he was in the NFL. I took Alex Hamil and moved him to offense(GA) with Coach Smith."

On the size of the 2011 recruiting class

"I would say we would be around 15, 17 at the most. But that's okay. Next year will be a bigger class."

On which true freshmen have a good chance to play this year

"I don't think any offensive lineman will play. Junior (Onyeali), probably (Devan) Spann, he's a really good athlete. (Deantre) Lewis, (Kyle) Middlebrooks and that's probably really it. But you don't know until they get here."

On whether the level of expectations on this team will be lower this year

"I think it's lower with the public, but not for us. I am excited about this year. We have a chance to be real good. If we can do what I think we can do offensively, and continue defensively to get better, we have a chance. I don't see why we can't compete."

On his thoughts about expanding the Pac 10

"I would like it personally. I would like to be able to get into two divisions and play like everybody else does. You look at some of these leagues and they play 7 league games…I would like to see those (other conferences) play every team in the league once and see how they like it.

"If it can make money for us and help the Pac-10 financially and TV wise we should do it. That's where it's at now. Financially to keep things going, in the whole Athletic Department, not just football. You have to make it in football. We're the only league that is not revenue sharing. I think the new commissioner is doing everything he can to make this thing go. That's what it's coming down to now. How do you keep all of these schools afloat financially in all sports? We have to have good women's athletic programs. We have to have good men's athletic programs. And it is all driven by football."

On the changes at USC and if that opens up the competition for the rest of the league

"I think that the opening was created by Oregon last year. I think that what Pete (Carroll) has done speaks for itself. Not only did he have good players, he won games. I don't know if it opens anything up. SC is SC. What I have seen since I have been back in the league is that there is not that much separation between the ten teams in the league. Everybody beats everybody. Who knows what is going to happen next year? I don't expect SC to drop off to be honest."

On Steven Threet and Aaron Pflugrad not being the typical transfers into a football program

"They're great. They did (well) on the scout team. I tried to recruit Pflugrad when I got here so I know what he is about. Not only his ability but his character. It's the same thing with Steven. You can tell when he got here and the things he has done on the scout team. Steven (Threet) has got the maturity. It's just like I told him, he knows every school's (fight) song in the country. Him and me.

"They weren't like transfers that couldn't play somewhere else or got into trouble and had to play somewhere else. We are fortunate to get transfers like that."

On how much longer he wants to coach

"I just want to get this thing going in the right direction. I would like to coach another 5-6 years. I just want to get it to the point where we can compete in this league every year. That's the point I really want to get to. I'll coach as long as I feel I am a benefit to this university and this football program. If I have a choice, I'll know when it's time. I won't ever do anything to this university that will be negative and keeping this program from getting it to the top. That's my number one goal and my last legacy.

"If they think that I am not doing it then that's how it is going to be.

"After three years, regardless of what maybe the public thinks, what I see is building this thing over time and it's finally starting to get there. Now you have to stay healthy and win, but at least we have some things in place a lot better than what we had. I know where we are at. Lisa (Love) knows where we are at and the President knows where we are at. I knew the plan. A lot of people thought that I forgot it.

"I'd be pretty upset with four wins too. I don't blame them (the fans). But you have to look at the end product from when I came here and I said I was going to accomplish. If and when I leave this program it is going to be in way better shape than it was. I feel like we are doing that."

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